This post is part of a series, How I Got That Gig, in which we ask craft industry professionals to tell us the story behind a great commission, job, freelance opportunity, or contract.
Heather Grant is the Director of Marketing & Programming for the Modern Quilt Guild (MQG). She’s one of a handful of staff members who run the organization that includes over 12,000 members and 200 chapters around the world. I met with Heather to talk about Fresh Quilting, the MQG’s quilting show on PBS. I wanted to know how the show came about and how it was going.
Defining Long-Term Goals
Grant founded the Austin chapter of the Modern Quilt Guild in 2009, and has been involved with the group ever since. As the organization began to grow from a loosely associated group of quilting guilds around the country, to a fully formed non-profit, she was one of the early adopters, founders, and board members who got together to discuss a vision for the MQG that included long-term goals.
“We literally wrote down everything we ever wanted, and one of them was a public television show, ” Grant said. “We knew very early on. It was always in the back of my mind.”
Around the same time, the group defined their mission, “to support and encourage the growth and development of modern quilting through art, education, and community.” The next few years were devoted to growing the guild and creating events and opportunities to achieve their mission goals. These included QuiltCon, the yearly quilt show and conference, as well as webinars, patterns, workshops, publications, and a robust website, but a quilting tv series remained a dream.
Searching for a Good Fit
Over the next few years, Grant says it became very clear to her that the future of the internet was video content, so the MQG staff began to explore their options. She and Alissa Haight Carlton, the Executive Director and co-founder of the MQG, both have experience with TV and video and knew that putting together their own production team would be too expensive for the non-profit, so they began looking for a partner.
“We talked with every company that produces craft video content out there,” Grant said. “There were two major stumbling blocks for us. One is that they all wanted to own the content outright. If we’re working together to co-promote the videos, why do they own that content? It’s not fair to the organization or to the designer. The other issue is that we wanted the videos to be free to our members, but everyone we talked to just saw it as a way for them to create sales.” The team continued to look for opportunities, but declined many offers to partner on the project.
Being Ready to Jump When Opportunities Present Themselves
In the Fall of 2015 Grant was at Quilt Market, the fabric industry trade show, when she mentioned her efforts to find a production team to an industry colleague, who said, “you need to meet Kathie Stull.”
Kathie Stull of KS Inc. Productions, has been producing craft shows such as It’s Sew Easy and Quilting Arts for PBS for 28 years. She happened to be at Quilt Market and agreed to meet Grant.
“She wasn’t expecting me to do a pitch for an entire show,” Grant said, with a laugh. “But I always have goals in the back of my mind. I know how I want to achieve them and if the opportunity presents itself, you’ve got to just be ready to jump. When the chance is there, why not?”
Stull was impressed with the pitch and loved Grant’s ideas for a quilting show. Coincidentally, she knew that Brother Sewing Machines was interested in sponsoring a show. “Kathie has a million connections and knows everyone in the industry. She also has a wealth of knowledge about public television, because there are a lot of rules. We worked together to outline the show, come up with the guests, and secure the underwriting.” Together, the MQG and Stull have been able to find underwriters for each season of Fresh Quilting.
Because PBS stations don’t pay for the show, funding from sponsors was necessary to build the set, hire the production company, and pay for the guests’ expenses. Instructors aren’t paid, but are encouraged to leverage the opportunity to sell products and promote their services. The MQG doesn’t receive any money, but they see a return in new members and guilds from the Fresh Quilting audience.
More Stations Add the Show and New Seasons are Scheduled
The MQG has filmed two seasons of Fresh Quilting, and is working on a third. Each PBS station decides whether or not to pick up the show, and that number has been steadily growing. All the episodes for a single season are filmed in one week at the KS Productions studios. A small MQG team selects the instructors for each season and Grant works with them in the studios during the week of filming.